The centrality of digital in Europe has been reinforced by the European Commission’s proposal for a recovery plan. Investing in Europe’s future means investing in the ecological and digital transition, according to Ursula von der Leyen.
The new pandemic-related challenges reinforce the need for investment in digital technology. Digital sovereignty, the development of artificial intelligence and e-health respond to the EU’s new needs. Europe’s digital commitment will become a reality from January 2021 with the implementation of a new programme to support the digital transformation of European societies and economies. The Digital Europe programme should have a budget of €8.4 billion to boost competitiveness and the green transition to climate neutrality by 2050, and to guarantee technological sovereignty. Four priority axes will be funded: supercomputers, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, wider use of digital technologies and e-skills. The programme will finance the transformation of IHL (Digital Innovation Hub) into EDIH (European Digital Innovation Hub) and its expansion to cover 240 European territories (up from 166 today). The budget of the future framework programme for research and innovation – Horizon Europe – will be reinforced in order to further support this digital transition.
New mechanisms, announced as part of the Recovery Plan, will also support the Shaping Europe’s Digital Future strategy: a new recovery and resilience facility, a solvency support instrument and a strategic investment facility. A skills strategy for Europe and an action plan for digital literacy will come with these investments. However, this “digitalisation” cannot be achieved without improving connectivity in Europe. Inequalities between Member States remain, particularly in the southern and eastern countries. At the same time, the Commission aims at the European roll-out of 5G by the end of the year. EU leaders met on 9 June to reaffirm their commitment for a better connectivity in Europe. Regulatory flexibility and the Recovery Fund should contribute to these objectives.
Progress is also being made on the legislative front. A public consultation has been launched by the Commission to identify the issues to be regulated by its regulatory package on digital services. However, several associations and organisations have criticised the Commission for having neglected or even retreated on certain issues such as: the protection of human rights; the protection of personal data, in particular in the context of COVID-19 tracking applications; restrictions on exports of cybertechnologies and, finally, the fight against misinformation.